Oct. 25, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Spartan Club at Spartan Stadium to preview the upcoming matchup at No. 13 Nebraska.
The No. 9 Spartans (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) and Huskers (6-1, 2-1) will kick off at 12 p.m. ET in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, Oct. 29. The game is being televised on ESPN.
"Big game, big environment," said Dantonio. "Again, it's why you come to Michigan State and play in this conference. It's a national-type game that has a national ramification as well as Big Ten Conference ramification. It's a good thing that we are involved in it, and the winner will continue to move forward.
"I think the environment (at Nebraska) is fueled by the tradition that they have there, the fan support. I think they have 316 straight games of sellouts dating back to '62, which is incredible. It's a program that has seen national prominence really through my lifetime."
In this week's national polls, the Spartans moved up to ninth in The Associated Press Poll and 10th in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll following their 37-31 win over then-No. 4 Wisconsin. Michigan State has earned a Top 25 national ranking in the USA TODAY Poll for 22 consecutive weeks.
In the second Bowl Championship Series standings released Sunday night, the Spartans are ranked 11th, while the Huskers are 14th.
The following is a complete transcript of Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Obviously big, big win against Wisconsin this past weekend. I thought the highlights of the football game to me were how we really responded, a lot of players having a big day, and then (Kirk Cousins) becoming the all time (winningest) quarterback in terms of in this program at Michigan State. But we had big plays throughout the entire football game and I think it showed.
But the adversity, getting behind 14 0, dealing with controversy through the week, getting behind 14 0, coming back making a 31 3 run against Wisconsin, and then they come back with 14 and then we sort of snatch it away at the end with a rocket play.
But just a great football game to watch. Punt block as well as field goal block, play of Keshawn Martin, big play to B.J. (Cunningham) on the fourth down and two point conversion, and just a lot of big plays by the entire football team. A really great game to watch...We kept our composure and played very well, zero penalties. So those things all fit for us.
Big challenge this week versus Nebraska. Great environment, great atmosphere, outstanding offense, (Rex) Burkhead and then also with (Taylor) Martinez, big play guys, tight end, great receivers, well designed scheme of things, option football in a lost respects. Defensively, great defense, Coach Pelini has put together a great program, coming back to Nebraska, great defense, a lot of things difficult to deal with. And great opportunity for us as well. So a big game in the Big Ten Conference.
Q. Getting the team up for three games like this, have you ever had three straight quite like this?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that if you're going to have a special year, you're going to have to do that over and over and over. But I also think the players see the opportunity and they try and rise to the occasion to get themselves ready to play. They were trying to play a little bit throughout the week and the weekend, and we tried to find some type of situation to build around.
Last week, we tried to create a perfect storm and that's what you're talking about, building the team up Friday and Saturday. But this week is going to be something else; I think our players will be ready. It will be a different environment to play in because we are going away. They have not played in that environment, so it will be exciting for them.
And I think the bigger the chips, the more exciting things get. So once you go into this last week of October and then into November, certainly, there's going to be a lot of things to play for throughout and our goal is going to remain in front us this week. So there's some things that will create excitement naturally.
Q. You've seen some running quarterbacks the last three games with Denard Robinson and Russell Wilson. Wow much does the game plan change in Taylor Martinez and what things does he do differently from the others that you've seen so far?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that the systems are different. Michigan is different than Ohio State's is different than Wisconsin's. I think that there are more...although Wilson ran the football by design a number of times on Saturday, I think his reps are a little bit more out of the pocket things that he's going to create. But they did have some times where they designed routes.
Martinez is more of an option type quarterback in design and he can throw it, as well, and he can scramble, as well; different designs, so that defensively you have to come up with different game plans. It changes. That's one thing about college football, I think it changes every week in terms of how you're going to defend who you are going to play against. There's quite a bit of difference when you look at the different teams in the Big Ten Conference, let alone national, and how they are doing things schematically.
Q. Reflect a little bit on the road the Keith Nichol has traveled.
COACH DANTONIO: Keith is a guy that when I first came back, on that day that I was hired here, he was the one guy that I tried to get a hold of and call. And really coaches live in a bubble, so really didn't know too much about what was going on up here until I got here because it was a very quick decision to come.
But he made the decision to go to Oklahoma and then come back here. He was a quarterback, he's now a wide receiver. I think he's handled the adversity like a champion that's been thrown at him throughout his life.
Everywhere he's been, he's had success. But because of the type of person that he is, you look for championship success in that personal endeavor, as well as team wise.
He's sacrificed I think incredibly for this football team. He's a great athlete. He's a tremendous athlete. So he's able to play so many positions and he would be...he would probably be a starting safety for us, maybe an outside linebacker by now, 220, 225. But he is that type of athlete and that type of hitter. He's one of our better special teams players.
He's a great wide receiver. Catches the ball very well. Obviously he can throw it and run it as a quarterback. You know, he had opportunities to win games here as a quarterback, and on occasion, he still plays quarterback here. So we'll see how that transitions throughout the year.
But I think he's the model for our football team in terms of sacrifice and commitment and trust for our program. He's done a tremendous job.
Q. Is Michigan the best comparison that you would have in terms of the quarterback and also the scheme? And also what kind of challenges does it also have to have, Burkhead in there, a downhill runner behind Martinez?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, they have created different challenges, but I think probably Michigan...but they will get in regular formations, the tight ends, flankers and eye backs. And in some ways, I can look at that football team and look at the Nebraska team we played in '95 and '96, great tailback and a great runner, running the g option, running different option things in there. They will get in bone sets with Burkhead and two tailbacks and create triple option and double option type things. They will be in one back sets and do some of the things that you see Michigan does. And they will also do some things that are unlike any other people that we play.
So they create problems with what they do, there's no question about that. A lot of different technique work and schematic work defensively in terms of how we are going to defend option type football. It's assignment based football.
Q. The defense played very well Saturday. Could you talk about specifically players like Kyler Elsworth; he really provided a spark for you guys and got the momentum going in the first half.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Kyler is a guy we put on scholarship at the end of August. He's a guy that was one of our best special teams players last year throughout the entire year. He came here, I think he was 102 1 maybe in wrestling coming out of high school. He was a tremendous wrestler and he actually was here to be a wrestler. But (he) pushed the scholarship away from himself as far as wrestler and concentrated on football.
So, again a very committed young man. Now weighs about 225 pounds. I think he came here about 190. You saw the punt block, just a great effort, third-and-2 play, another great effort, getting off the block and making the hit, no gain, and two big huge plays in the game. He's one of our top players on special teams in all phases. He's on all of them. He plays about 25, 30 plays a game. Counting this year, he's got three years left, or two and a half, three years and he's going to be a guy that's going to make a lot of plays out here for a number of years.
Q. Your program has had to set the bar for walk ons; how important is it to get preferred walk ons of that caliber?
COACH DANTONIO: Very important to our program. We probably put eight to 10 on scholarship since we have been here. Travis (Key) was a guy that was a walk on here and ended up being a captain. And we have had numerous players, last year the fullback, Nick Bendzuck, was a walk on. We have quite a few guys that I can't even name them all right now. But quite a few guys had come and play and have a big impact on this program.
The thing I think people need to realize, you can have 85 guys on scholarship, you can invite 105 to camp in August, and so those 20 guys that you bring in, they are very, very good football players. They are players that can play at many levels at the Division I level, really a lot of places throughout this country. So they are very committed young people. And guys that come and play, make a difference to this program. Our snapper, Matt Giampapa, is a guy that's a non scholarship player that can be on scholarship here probably next spring, and on it goes. We have had quite a few guys that have done this.
Q. Can you speak to the importance of this game, as far as the Big Ten is concerned and tiebreakers?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we are 6-1, they are 6-1, five games left after this and there will be four after this. Whoever wins this football game probably puts themselves in the driver's set as far as tiebreakers, if we come up with two teams. Come up with three teams I'm not exactly sure how that all works, maybe division play from what I understand.
Big game, big environment. Again, it's why you come to Michigan State and play in this conference. It's a national type game that has a national ramification as well as Big Ten Conference ramification. It's a good thing that we are involved in it and winner will continue to move forward.
Q. Last week the university addressed your contract situation, is there any in place to address that of your assistants who compared to co workers at other schools are underpaid?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, there is a plan in place. The university had a freeze this past year in terms of raises, etc. That was a university-based thing. But there are plans to get our assistants...I think we were fourth in terms of our pay throughout the conference. Hopefully we are able to raise that. There is a substantial plan in place where there are guarantees involved. So, thank you for asking.
Q. Bennie Fowler has been slowly working back; is that a long process to feel comfortable again, and have you made any decisions on (Blake) Treadwell as well as redshirt goes?
COACH DANTONIO: We will redshirt (Tyler) Hoover and Treadwell. Both those guys could have come back maybe the last three games but to have them another year is going to be important, and we have to apply the sixth year with Tyler, and that will be after next year.
But as far as Bennie, with the foot injury, he was out probably about four or five...probably about five weeks. So when he does come back, you have to limit what he's able to do. He's a little bit rusty. So you had to ease him back into things.
You've got three other guys out there that are playing pretty well. But he played six plays this last week, so just trying to move him forward. Very good football player that can make plays for us. And you know, again, I think he's gained his confidence back in terms of playing on his foot as well. He's been able to do that. I think he looks good in practice and we are going to get more involved as we go.
Q. You mentioned Nebraska has a special football environment down there. What makes it that way, and do you do anything to kind of get your team ready for that?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we always make noise, and we'll continue to do that, probably put that in with us. One of the more impressive things that I've seen is all of the people in the end zone. It just keeps going and going, about 30,000 on one and 20,000 on the other it seems like.
But I think the environment is fueled by the tradition that they have there, the fan support. I think they have 316 straight games of sellouts dating back to '62, which is incredible. It's a program that has seen national prominence really through my lifetime. I think there's also some similarities because Bob Devaney was a Michigan State guy, was one of Duffy's coaches, he went out there and said there's a little bit of a feeling like we understand them and know them and there's probably some similarities based on the past.
Q. Some of the great coaches have been tougher on their teams when they have success than when they fail for whatever reason. I'm wondering, is it harder to prepare a team for another big game when they won three previous big games?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that one of the things that we pointed to, why we have been able to win here last year and I think this year thus far is the chemistry in our football team and the leadership that exists on our football team. Coaches can stand up there and say whatever he wants to say, but if they are not buying it, it doesn't work. It's got to come from the players. It's got to be real.
So I think our players have an understanding of that. I've talked a lot about just maturity as a person and although sometimes we all lack that, myself, we get into problems because of it, I think for the most part we have handled ourselves in that respect, and it's allowed us to be successful.
Hopefully we bring that type of attitude with us. But it will be challenging. It always is. We all can have the best intent, getting ready to play that game, we can have the best intent, be energetic, keep our enthusiasm, handle adversity and do all of these things. But when the game comes, in the game, can we do it in the game? Can we be constant in the game in terms of, people handle things when they come up, and that's the tradition of where we are at. Thus far we have been able to do it. But you make plays out on the field, that creates enthusiasm. Have to do that.
Q. Can you speak to having Keshawn Martin more involved the last couple of weeks.
COACH DANTONIO: I think Keshawn has stepped up and he's becoming the player we all thought he would be throughout the season. I think he was exposed a little early on for whatever reason. These last two games he's made big plays and he's got a lot of confidence right now, and it's only going to continue. That's the type of player he has been for us for three years. I think probably put a highlight film of him up, four years, about 30 or 40 big time plays. He's a guy that will continue to do that hopefully the rest of the season. I think he's having a good fall, and a great last two games.
Q. When coaches take over a program, they talk about changing the culture and you certainly seem to have done this here; what do you think you have turned it into?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we are going to find out here in the next five weeks. I think that's the biggest thing. Thus far what we have turned it into in my perspective, we have turned it into a football team that you can expect to go to a bowl game. Got to win them; that will be the next challenge. But we are going to bowl games. We have done that now for five years.
Last three years, we have competed for the championship on the last day of the season. We have changed that culture some. We have won one and lost one in that respect. Again, I always try to evaluate a season at the end of the season, so we don't know where this one is going right now. It's headed in the right direction. But you don't want to assume anything.
Q. Can you discuss the running back situation with Baker and Bell?
COACH DANTONIO: We are going to go with the hot guy. They are all starters to me. When I say, who are our starting running backs, I say Baker, Bell, Caper. Or I may say it in reverse order. Put one in the middle. They are all starters. They have all started here. They have all been the guy. They have all been the guy that we say, `hey, give him the ball the most in a football game.' And that's been consistent really the last three years with Baker and Caper and it's been consistent this year and last year with Bell being involved in that.
So whoever gets hot in the game, that's who we are going to go with. We will find it out, figure it out as we go. Obviously can't put the ball on the ground; I know Edwin felt terrible about it. But you can't let it affect you, either, after that. You have to keep playing.
Inevitably one of those guys has to get hot for us to be successful on the field, and if two of them are hot we'll keep going with it. But if one gets hot, he will get the majority of the carries. I think Baker had 11 carries and Bell had 16 carries, and I think last week it was probably reversed.
So they are getting opportunities and I think as long as they come out of the game with us winning, everybody is happy and that's what we have to continue to do. All three of them are good football players, and I think they all have an opportunity and aspiration beyond a level of football and I think they have that kind of God given talent.
Q. Talk about the importance of chemistry and leadership, considering everything that Kirk has accomplished, three straight wins over Michigan, you have won 17 of your last 20 games, and what he could accomplish in the future; does he become the face of the program that embodies what this program has gone through?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think he does. He's the guy that in 2009 he had adversity much like we did as a football team...He solidified his position last year I think as a player and a winner. He's been a captain here for three years (has happened only one previous time, Robert McCurry, 1946-48). He has won more football games as a starting quarterback than any other quarterback in the history of Michigan State football, which is a huge statement, and he has a chance to build on that.
I think from out here, after the game, you saw how he handles himself, I think he is the face of the program in many respects. It's a great thing because he speaks to everything that really is true about college athletics: Amateurism, academics, football, leadership, all of those things. Toughness. He speaks to all of those things by the way he handles himself. Maturity. Discipline. All of those things that he sort of embodies. The speech that he did at the Big Ten Conference luncheon, all of those things, they all just point him in that direction.
And you almost become so used to him if you're around him all the time, being a leader, being a guy not having a down day that you almost take it for granted sometimes. And if there's anything that I probably do, I probably do that a little bit. I can try and make it more special.
He's a young man with a special future ahead of him, not just as a football player, but as a person and a leader in this community, and Michigan, and maybe in the entire country, as well. He will do special things.
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